Pregnancy and Postpartum

Struggling with body image during pregnancy

struggling with body image. weight scale. prenatal appointments and weighing in

The worst part of prenatal visits? Going to your healthcare provider’s office and stepping on that scale at Every. Single. Appointment. As if you need any reminder that your weight is increasing at an alarming rate. You know this. You feel huge. No other pregnant mom looks as big as you do. You shouldn’t have eaten that extra serving. Why won’t these pants fit anymore? … Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? Struggling with body image is a huge frustration during and after pregnancy.

Being pregnant can be incredibly challenging if you’re struggling with body image or disordered eating. Yes, rationally you’re aware that this peanut growing inside of you is taking up a lot of real estate. You’ve read all of the instagram posts about body positivity, and know you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way. But, all of that aside, you still feel lousy when you see your reflection or step on the scale. So what can you do? If you’re struggling with body image, here are some thoughts to consider:

Re-assess “normal weight gain” in pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, your body is truly being taken over. Your metabolism shifts, your energy wanes, stretch marks suddenly appear. It’s natural, and it’s hard. When you’ve spent a long time meticulously taking care of your weight and appearance, these drastic changes to your body feel jarring. Check in with yourself about how you are seeing these changes. Is there shame and personalization involved? Are you feeling at fault for gaining “too much”?

body mass index (BMI) and impact on body image. Addressing BMI during pregnancy. healthy weight gain guidlines

Unfortunately, we have been given guidelines that it’s “normal and healthy” to gain 15-30 pounds during pregnancy. But this number is based on BMI, which research continues to point out is a flawed system for assessing health. Your recommended weight gain varies on so many factors. This number shifts based on whether your BMI was over or under prior to pregnancy. Your weight gain will vary if you are having twins. The number on the scale will look different if you’re struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum or if you’re managing your nausea by eating differently. In reality, only a third of pregnancies stay with the recommended weight gain, while about 50% gain beyond this number.

Speaking for my own body, with my first son I gained 45 pounds during my pregnancy, whereas I gained 20 with my second. I didn’t do anything differently. Bodies changes and babies are different. It isn’t personal. You’re not doing it wrong. That number on the scale doesn’t say anything about you or how well you are doing this pregnancy.

It will not be forever

This is not your forever shape or size. I do not have a crystal ball to confirm you will go back to your pre-baby weight, and I won’t deny that perhaps you’ve gained weight. However, the size you are while pregnant does not stay on forever. Whether it’s 6 weeks postpartum or 6 months postpartum, your body will change after delivery. Remind yourself as many times as needed that it took you 9 months to help your baby develop. Give your body at least 9 months to settle back to what it considers is the “new normal”.

Find safe others

Talking to safe person about body image. Struggling with body image during pregnancy.

It’s easy to feel isolated with our crummy feelings. Body positivity is an amazing trend that our culture is trying to lean into; however, it doesn’t leave much space to acknowledge when we are struggling. When we feel ashamed or alone in our thoughts, it can be debilitating. We become worried that others will judge us, shame us or minimize our feelings. If you have judgmental folks like this in your life, they are not the ones to turn to right now.

Find those who truly appreciate how hard this is for you. They know that you want to be healthy AND they respect that body image is something you’re struggling with today. This person doesn’t need to know how to fix the situation. Instead, they just need to let you know that you’re heard, you’re loved, and you will always be safe with them irrespective of how your body looks.

Use movement

using movement to help address prenatal weight anxiety. walking to help with pregnancy and body image

During pregnancy, find ways to move whenever possible. Let go of the standards that you used to meet whether it was a certain distance, speed, repetitions, or weight level. Focus instead on what movements means to you. For me, movement provides me opportunities to let go of stress, it helps my body feel strong, and it helps me feel energized. Once I stopped trying to meet my old standards, it felt easier to accept that this is what exercise could do for me today.

Our Society and Thin Privilege

I won’t deny that being thin and beautiful doesn’t have privileges (read more about thin privilege). Thin privilege allows for your weight to not define you and how you move through your environment and world. There is an awful amount of discrimination with fat phobia. People living in a larger body have been overlooked, groaned at, or mocked because of their weight. In these situations, being thin means they will finally receive respect and courtesy from other people. Being thin means the ability to walk into a store and actually be able to buy clothes. If you’ve been subjected to others’ fat phobia, you may have coped by maintaining a certain weight. Pregnancy has thrown this weight plan out the window.

If being pregnant or weight gain puts you into a space of losing your self-respect or self-worth, that’s not okay. It’s not okay for society to put you in this position or for you to suffer simply because of the way your body naturally flows. So how do we learn to externalize this? How do we shift from assuming there is something wrong with us to there is something biased and unfair about the culture we live in?

Tips for boosting body image:

tips for improving body image. shifting the way we think about our bodies. diet culture. comparing.
  • Diversify what you see: Follow influencers of all shapes and sizes. Follow those who look like you and don’t look like you.
  • Stop the comparison game: Envy is a tough emotion to contend with, and it leaves us feeling lacking. Start by checking the facts: do you know for sure that this person truly has more than you? Do these factors make them better or happier than you?
  • Highlight your own positive attributes: Notice what is awesome about you, and spend time acknowledging these positive traits. e.g. expressing pride in your career or grades, appreciating the health of your relationships
  • Become critical of toxic diet culture: We all know it’s out there. Start by challenging these constantly shifting body ideals. Unfollow or speak up about the companies and individuals that make you feel bad about your body.
  • Focus on what your body is doing for you: What are your thighs, arms, and belly meant to do? What are their functions? Focusing on their role as a function vs.

What are you avoiding by focusing on body image and food?

Sometimes body image acts as a (horrible, awful, exasperating) scapegoat for our actual struggles. By focusing on that number on the scale, you may find that you can avoid addressing other things. You spend hours staring at the fridge, planning meals, going to the gym, organizing your closet with “comfy” clothes, that you don’t have time to deal with the real stuff.

We all cope in different ways. Previously, you may have turned to a glass of wine, a cigarette, or going out dancing to get rid of all your stress. Now that you’re pregnant, these coping mechanisms aren’t as available. Food, on the other hand, is always there and doesn’t take as much effort. It soothes our stressors and pains. But, using food as a coping mechanism offers a temporary solution. It doesn’t allow us to address the actual cause of stress and turmoil in your life.

So ask yourself, if you didn’t spend all this time on body image and food, what would you be left with? Would you suddenly have to address your loneliness? Are you more aware of your anxieties about work, the state of your finances, or your struggling relationships? If we looked at negative body image as a coping mechanism (again, not vouching that it’s a nice or effective one), we realize it’s trying to prevent you from dealing with a deeper vulnerability.

Addressing the original trauma: When did this struggle with body image start?

body image and teenager. Struggling with body image in pregnancy. trauma from childhood

Body image rarely shows up in pregnancy without some form of history. Consider when else in your life have you struggled with this issue. Have you been painfully aware of your appearance since adolescence? Have you managed to shove aside any struggles with your appearance by exercising and maintaining a “healthy” diet? When did you make the connection between your appearance and your self-worth? How was this message taught to you?

When it comes to body image struggles, pregnancy makes things worse. However, it’s not the culprit. After your little one is born, things may feel manageable with dieting and exercise, but it’s a fragile set up. Anytime that weight starts to increase, that same panic may come back.

If this has been your experience, then it’s important to recognize that there is some earlier trauma to be addressed. Your body image struggles could have slowly formed while participating in gym class, listening to your mom comment about her (or your) weight, looking at skinny actresses and models, or a myriad of events. These moments stayed with you. That vulnerable part of you still worries about your appearance, fitting in, or whether you will be considered “worthy.” This is where therapy can be helpful in processing these earlier emotional burdens.

Reach out

If you or a loved one is struggling with body image during pregnancy, reach out. Therapy is a safe space to voice your concerns and work through these difficulties. Schedule a free consult call to see if we would be a good fit.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Parenting

5 reasons why parents don’t seek treatment for postpartum depression

We know the rate of postpartum depression is quite high, and that it affects approximately 1/7 moms and 1/10 dads. The symptoms can vary from uncontrollable tears, rage, lack of appetite, and endless worries. It is meant to be a beautiful time where you build a bond with your newborn, but this emotional roller coaster doesn’t allow you to nurture this relationship. So, what gets in the way of seeking treatment for postpartum depression (PPMD)?

When it comes to accessing help, there are five common misconceptions that create a barrier:

1) Postpartum depression is a “mom” issue.

False! Firstly, there is no way to live with a family member who has mental health struggles and not become affected in some way or form. Mental health has a ripple effect. Secondly, the impact of adjusting to life with a baby is equally stressful for dads, adopted parents, and caregivers. In fact, these other support persons can also experience postpartum depression. PPMD can affect anyone, irrespective of age, race, culture, education or financial status.

What prevents you from seeking treatment for postpartum depression? Here are 5 common Myths. Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy if you are struggling with postpartum depression.
Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

2) If I ask for help, they will take my baby away.

This comment gets whispered often, and my heart breaks every time I hear it. I think the Children’s Aid Society has done an incredible job over the years in supporting children in staying safe. At the same time, I think our history has been marred by CAS experiences that have created caution and distrust.

As a social worker, I can clarify that my duty to report is solely in situations where there is genuine threat to a baby. Postpartum parents struggle with their own emotions and this, in turn, makes it hard for them to take care of their child. The intent is not to be physically harmful towards their child. In fact, the primary stressors I witness in postpartum parents are guilt and insecurity. They are struggling because they worry of not being a good enough parent. There is guilty about not spending enough time with their baby or their loved ones. These caregivers stress about how they cannot provide for their child as well as they would like. None of these worries are a concern about child safety. Instead, this is a parent who is expressing suffering, and they should be treated with compassion.

3) I can’t have postpartum depression; I’m not crying or sad all the time.

Depression is often described as a heavy cloud that hangs over us, making it hard to feel motivated, enjoy life, or be ourselves. It’s understandable to dismiss symptoms of PPMD because it doesn’t show up in the same ways as depression. With PPMD, there are a variety of different symptoms that can be seen, including:

  • sadness
  • overwhelmed/stressed
  • scary of unwanted thoughts
  • flashbacks/trauma about the pregnancy or delivery
  • anxiety
  • sleep troubles
  • emptiness
  • rage/irritability
  • appetite troubles
  • lack of energy
  • avoidance
  • disinterest
  • fear of being along
  • fear of being separated from baby
  • concentration difficulties
5 myths that prevent a parent from seeking treatment for postpartum depression. Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for support
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

4) I won’t get better or This is how parenting is supposed to be.

Postpartum depression is treatable! With effective support, parents can recover. Moreover, treatment is more efficient when support is offered sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, many parents assume “feeling bad” is normal during postpartum. There is an adjustment period involved when a baby comes into the home. However, if the stress in adjusting is overwhelming, and if it does not get better with time, it warrants some extra support. Others may make flippant remarks like, “get used to it.” It doesn’t mean your emotional struggles are any less real, nor should they minimized.

5) I didn’t think I had it. I was fine for the first few months.

Postpartum depression does not show up right away, and so it can often be missed. Postpartum Support International recommends that we assess for perinatal depression throughout the pregnancy (every trimester), as well as at 1, 2, and 6 months postpartum. There has also been new research indicating the benefits in assessing at 9 and 12 months as parents begin to return to work, and they face another large adjustment period. Because some parents may not have noticed clear indicators of stressors before this time, it is easy to assume that what they are experiencing is not postpartum depression.

What prevents you from seeking treatment for postpartum depression? Here are 5 common Myths. Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy if you are struggling with postpartum depression.
Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

Fellow caregivers, if you are struggling with PPMD, know that it is not your fault. There is no single cause for having PPMD, and there are a variety of genetic and environmental factors that increase your vulnerabilities. If you, or your loved ones are needing support, please reach out.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

When your experience of pregnancy and childbirth don’t match your plans

I want to send a big virtual hug to all new moms and mothers-to-be! Pregnancy is such huge chunk of time in our lives. It’s 9 months (or longer when those babes feel the need to make a fashionably late entrance) of planning and growing. I think it’s reasonable to say that pregnancy is a mixed bag of emotions. It’s a roller coaster of feeling elated, anxious, determined, in denial, panicked, calm, insert twelve other emotions you experienced this hour. The easiest way to manage our anxiety is to problem solve. For many moms, this means planning out the pregnancy, delivery and postpartum phase to manage this emotional roller coaster. During these months, moms may be reading every blog and book they can grab. They may be reaching out to professionals to make sure they’re “on the right track”. They may start nesting to create the ideal nursery for their new family member. They have created a birth plan, set up parental leave with work, connected with potential daycare services, or made enough freezer meals to feed the whole neighbourhood.

And now, despite all of this planning and good intentions, COVID-19 has completely messed up our plans. A common theme I have been hearing from pregnant and postpartum moms is dealing with shattered expectations. No matter what you were planning for your pregnancy and postpartum phase, this is not it. It’s incredibly hard to not have our support network available to us right now. We don’t have the same access to our doctors and specialists. The coping strategies we planned aren’t feasible (i.e. attending baby/mom groups, visiting family and friends, etc). Given all of these changes, I wanted to provide some suggestions that I hope will be of help:

Suggestion 1:

This is time for physical distancing not social isolation. Be in regular contact with your friends and family. Continue to reach out to your professional support through telehealth. For first time moms, it is normal to have a TON of questions about your newborns. (i.e. Why is she making that noise? Has he pooped enough? Am I producing enough milk? Will I ever be able to fit into those skinny jeans? Will everything turn back to normal down there after that magical 6 week-wait postpartum?). Your anxiety will feel calmer with some answers from trusted sources like your family doctor, ob/gyn, midwife, Douala, lactation consultants, etc.

Shattered expectations in Pregnancy/Postpartum Care. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy. Treating trauma and postpartum/ pregnancy mental health.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Suggestion 2

Participate in virtual communities of fellow parents. There are many parenting communities online such as What to Expect or local Facebook groups. When I was postpartum, I realized most of my anxieties showed up during a 3 AM feed (really, what sleep deprived parent is thinking clearly and calmly at 3 AM?). It was a relief to be able to post questions to my online community at any time of day. Participating in an online parenting community also led me to the realization that I had zero original thought 😀 Every question and concern I had was also posed by a dozen moms before me. This is great because our worries are fleeting if reassurance and answers are just a few scrolls down.

Suggestion 3:

Be clear with your partner of what will feel helpful. Of course, we’d love for our significant others to always know what we want or need. However, this is not the time to test our partners. Our needs are always changing, and what might have worked prior to the pregnancy may not seem like the right approach right now. It’s okay to turn to our loved ones and ask for help, whether it’s an extra pair of hands during a nighttime diaper change, getting a meal ready, needing a hug, or reinforcement that you’re doing a good job. It’s also okay to articulate when we feel distressed and we don’t know what will help. Acknowledging that we don’t have a solution can be tough to us and our partners. It’s okay to not always know the best solution, so long as it opens the door to brainstorming and trying out new ideas.

Shattered expectations in Pregnancy/Postpartum Care. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy. Treating trauma and postpartum/ pregnancy mental health.
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Suggestion 4:

Stay active. Yes, this is the most cliché advice that you can get from a therapist, but I promise it’s based on evidence! Your nervous system will thank you for making time for cardio. If you are consistently working out, it will improve your ability to handle stress, and it will help your emotions feel generally more regulated (Who doesn’t want to get off that emotional roller coaster?).

Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

Suggestion 5:

Accept that you wanted this to go differently. At the end of the day, this is not what you planned, and it’s okay to be disappointed. Many of us, whether we’re parents or not, can appreciate being disappointed with plans being thrown out the window due to this virus. Why should we deny this reality? Suggestion 6: Be honest with yourself in whether your worries are manageable. There are a lot of professional supports available. Whether through individual counselling, couples counselling, or support groups (i.e. Postpartum Support International), therapy can offer many options to address struggles that feel beyond your control. Seeking help does not mean you’ve done anything wrong, nor does it say anything about your capacity. Pregnancy and postpartum is a messy time. It’s a combination of hormonal changes, lack of sleep, adjustment difficulties, and mental health vulnerabilities. The emotional distress exacerbates when we try and put pressure on ourselves to “suck it up” or “just snap out of it”.

Photo by Mabel Amber on Pexels.com

Everyone’s needs are unique. If you feel some support would be helpful, please reach out.

Cheers, Kasi